Oban means "little bay" in Gaelic. It's situation in the lee of Kerrera makes it a safe anchorage in the Highlands and it is much used by fishing boats, visiting yachts, and the inter-island ferries operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. The town became a fashionable resort following a visit by Queen Victoria in the company of Felix Mendelssohn, the latter staying at Dunollie Castle on the outskirts of the town. A visit to the Oban Distillery, conveniently but unusually located in the center of town since it was opened in 1794, was followed by a tasting session. We cast off at noon and enjoyed a lunch of the fresh mussels we had collected the previous day at Inverlussa on the isle of Mull. Heading along Loch Linnhe toward Fort William, we had time for a presentation on Scottish history before arriving at Corpach to enter the Atlantic sea lock of the Caledonian Canal.
The Caledonian Canal was engineered in the opening decade of the nineteenth century by the great Scottish engineer Thomas Telford. It was a government-funded project at the time of the French Revolutionary Wars, designed to enable the more rapid exchange of naval vessels from the North Sea to the Atlantic. By the time the canal was completed, the wars had ended and the age of sail had been replaced by the age of steam. The larger steam-powered vessels were unable to navigate the canal and its commercial future looked unviable. Today, the bulk of traffic on the canal is recreational and our ship, Lord of the Glens, is the largest vessel plying its tranquil waters.
In late afternoon, we headed out to Glenfinnan, famous as the place where ‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie set foot on mainland Scotland for the first time and raised his standard to start the ill-fated Jacobite rebellion of 1745. It is now mainly visited for views of the railway viaduct made famous in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. On arrival at Corpach we had good views of the train used in the movies that now plies a lucrative trade in family outings from the West Highland railway line from Fort William to Mallaig. At Glenfinann, guests chose between two walks—a more energetic option along a mountain trail and a gentler option along a boardwalk nature tail that negotiated wetland through native forest.